Ted Morgan boxes for gold, 1928

Ted Morgan boxes for gold, 1928

Ted Morgan displaying his amateur world welterweight championship belt in 1928, the year he won gold in the event at the Amsterdam Olympics.

Our first official gold medal 

Ted Morgan’s family arrived in Wellington from England in 1907 when Ted was barely one. He attended Te Aro School and Wellington College. J.P. Firth, the principal of Wellington College (and New Zealand’s representative on the International Olympic Committee from 1923 to 1927), was a strong believer in the importance of physical fitness. Boxing was a major sport in the school and Morgan was runner-up in the college bantamweight championship in 1921 and in the lightweight class in 1922.

Ted Morgan left school at the end of 1922 to become an apprentice plumber. He won both the Wellington and national amateur lightweight titles in 1925. In 1927 he was selected for the New Zealand team to compete at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. It was to be a big year for New Zealand boxing as Gisborne’s Tom Heeney also fought Gene Tunney in New York for the world professional heavyweight title.

Morgan was a southpaw (a boxer, usually left-handed, who leads with right-handed jabs). He had a reputation for constantly going after his opponents and forcing them into mistakes.

Morgan put on weight on the long sea voyage to Europe, forcing him to move up a division to welterweight. A punching bag was set up on the SS Remuera to allow Morgan and the other boxer in the team, Alf Cleverley, to train. Cleverley, a marginal selection for the team, had to work his passage to Amsterdam. The ship’s captain refused to let passengers and crew mix, so Morgan and Cleverley could not spar with each other.

Morgan’s weight gain posed a real problem. Three pounds (1.4 kg) too heavy for his normal lightweight division, he was nine pounds (4.1 kg) lighter than most of his welterweight opponents. His prospects slumped further when he dislocated a knuckle on his left hand while sparring a week before the Games. Punching caused him severe pain. 

Undaunted, Morgan knocked out his first opponent, Sweden’s Selfrid Johannson, in the second round. He then defeated Italy’s Romano Canova easily on points. Head-butted by the Italian on a number of occasions, he finished the fight with a black eye. In the semi-finals the Kiwi scored another points victory over the pre-Games favourite, Rene Catalaud of France.

Morgan’s opponent in the final was the vastly experienced Argentinean Paul Landini, who had a reputation for knocking out his opponents. By now he could not even straighten his left hand. But the New Zealander had come too far and endured too much to let victory slip now. He out-boxed Landini to win a unanimous points decision. One English writer was moved to describe Morgan as the ‘best boxer at the games’.

Ted Morgan is officially credited as New Zealand’s first gold medallist. The New Zealander Malcolm Champion had won gold in the pool in 1912 as part of an Australasian relay team.

Morgan turned professional in 1929, but failed to fulfil his promise. He lost 11 of his 26 professional bouts and in 1934 returned to his trade as a plumber.

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